I was dozing in bed around 5:00AM when I started to think about history. Yeah, I know, I am some kind of nerd. Two days before Christmas, while I am off on break, and I am thinking about history? Guilty.
I was thinking about the balance between content and skills, struggling with the question: which is more important? These days, with information about anything so readily available, content seems less and less critical to the history classroom. Indeed, many of my history-teaching peers are much more focused on skill development – DBQ skills, research skills, citation skills, thesis-writing skills, paragraph-writing skills, BS-detector skills (as one colleague colorfully describes critical thinking), etc. No arguments here – these are all essential to success in history.
This is when I had my epiphany.
As history teachers, we spend an incredible amount of time helping students master the art of academic writing. The culminating end goal, for a history teacher in middle school (like me, for example), is to prepare a student to one day produce a beautifully crafted 30-page academic essay.
The sad part is, no one (save some unfortunate TA or professor) will EVER read that paper.
So, I asked myself, why are we wasting our time and the time of our students, teaching them this skill?
This is the 21st Century, for goodness sake. No one reads anything as long as 30-pages anymore. People want their information in 140-character tweets, in “The top 10 things you need to know about…” Buzzfeed articles, in Instagram photos, in Vine or YouTube videos, in Ted Talks, and maybe even in Facebook posts.
Why are we teaching kids to successfully communicate in these new media?
And, not only should we be focusing on new media, we need to help students learn to make their communication jump out of the Tsunami of information that floats around the globe on a daily basis.
Sure, everyone mocks those “You’ll never guess what happened next…” click-bait headlines. But, you have to admit that the person who came up with that idea was a communication genius. Can we challenge our students to be even more creative?
I have to run now – last minute Christmas stuff to take care of, ya know. But, think about it. Think about guiding our students onto different paths and how to make themselves, and their work, shine.
Happy Holidays and Hi5!